Wednesday, September 02, 2009

"Empathy is Never Wasted"

As I have been dealing with a life that is pretty messy (weird schedule, weird health, long list of to-dos that don't get done because of said and other weirdness), I have thought a lot about the commandment to not judge. I have a greater appreciation for what that means, because I know more what it's like to fear others' judgment because of my messy life.

We so often measure each other (and ourselves!) by the externally visible, the tangibly measurable. Our world is driven by things like checklists, grades, scholarships, salaries, possessions, appearance, degrees, promotions, etc. It's not that these things don't have their place, but if they become the ruler by which we decide how much respect or love someone deserves, it quickly becomes problematic.

The way I see it, we are asked to "live in" this world of mortal measures, but to not "be of" this world. Christlike living demands a different kind of approach -- an open heart.

While I have often wished my trials could be taken from me, one thing that I do feel I am learning is to stop and think and open my heart when I feel the instinct to judge.

The truth is, we are all "weighed in the balance...and...found wanting." And we all need each others' compassion, patience, and love.

I was reading through this talk by Elder Neal A. Maxwell (how I miss him!), and read this -- one of those wowza kinds of quotes:

As things unfold, sometimes in full view, let us be merciful with each other. We certainly do not criticize hospital patients amid intensive care for looking pale and preoccupied. Why then those recovering from surgery on their souls? No need for us to stare; those stitches will finally come out. And in this hospital, too, it is important for everyone to remember that the hospital chart is not the patient. Extending our mercy to someone need not wait upon our full understanding of their challenges! Empathy may not be appreciated or reciprocated, but empathy is never wasted.
What has helped you feel more empathy and compassion for others?


Annette Lyon said...

What an absolutely beautiful quote.

To answer your question--I think the more trials I go through and the more I discover about others' trials, the more likely I am to have empathy. I'm less likely to go into a situation and assume anything, because I know firsthand that appearances are deceiving, and you just can't know what's going on in someone's life and heart unless you're living their life.

Angie said...

I find that when I am most merciful and gentle with myself, I am best able to extend that mercy and gentleness to others. When I am hard on myself and punishing myself for all the ways that I fail to measure up, everyone around me gets the punishment as well. When I can cultivate peace and stillness, empathy is never far behind. Sleep helps too :)

m_and_m said...

Annette, so well said.

Angie, thanks for bringing that up. I have felt the same way. It's only been recently that I have applied that scripture about not judging to myself -- even I don't understand and know all that is going on in my life, all the layers that lead to my imperfections. Trials in my life are helping me learn to be more gentle with myself.

(Now sleep is another story for me! That's a hard one when your body simply doesn't know how to do sleep very well....)

Michelle said...

I love this. Thanks m&m-- thank you for your empathy.

Mama D said...

What a wonderful quote!

I agree with the others - I have learned greater empathy by going through challenges and thereby being forced to see my own weaknesses in a new light. It is so important to be gentle with others and with ourselves!

I also learn empathy from others like you, m&m! Thank you for sharing the lessons you are learning as you struggle with your health and other issues in your life.

I am reminded of Marjorie Paye Hinckley's quote: “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”